When it comes to film adaptations of comic books, roles for women are rare. The few superhero movies that have female leads—Supergirl, Elektra, Catwoman—fared poorly, both critically and commercially. One exception is the X-Men series, in which Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romjin, Kelly Hu, and Ellen Page shared significant screen time as part of an ensemble cast.
“I’d like to see more important female characters,” the Comicshop’s Stephanie Blakey says by phone. “Because when you try and think of one, someone will yell out Mary Jane from Spider-Man or Lois Lane [from Superman], who really aren’t very important. They’re the victims, for the most part.”
There are a few notable examples of comic-book adaptations that centre on women.
Even though 2001’s Ghost World was written by a guy, Daniel Clowes, the perspective is that of alienated, bitter female high-school graduates. As social outsiders, Enid (Thora Birch) and her best friend, Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson), resist conformity and see through artifice. Blakey says she was able to relate to the characters, and found them realistic and interesting.
Blakey also thought highly of Persepolis, the 2007 animated coming-of-age story based on Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel, which follows the life of an Iranian teen during the Islamic Revolution as she struggles to find the freedom to express herself.
One other example is V for Vendetta from 2006, in which a young Englishwoman (Natalie Portman) is drawn into a battle against oppression and corruption.
In contrast to the one or two token roles for women in the typical male-dominated cast, numerous female characters populate Frank Miller films like 2005’s Sin City (which features Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Devon Aoki, Carla Gugino, Jaime King, Alexis Bledel, and Brittany Murphy) and the forthcoming The Spirit, as love interests, allies, and enemies.
As much as Blakey loved Sin City for its style and grittiness, she points out that “even though they [the female characters] do fight, overall they are the victims in that movie.” Robin McConnell, who hosts CiTR Radio’s comic-book program Inkstuds, adds that the women in Sin City are male-dependent. “They’re fighting for their own freedom,” he says by phone, “but then again”¦there’s always a man there to help them out.”
Although some are highly skilled and deadly women—femme-fatale influences from pulp fiction and film noir—they’re eroticized, as well. McConnell says he sees their fetishized portrayals as a product of male fantasies. “They’re powerful within their hypersexuality.”¦Would they be powerful if they weren’t attractive?”
He sees a significant difference in how women are portrayed in comics by women. “It doesn’t have to be a story about a female being this particular archetype of being this hypersexualized character,” he says. “Instead, it’s just a story like anyone else can tell a story. And I think that’s the difference when we look at how a woman looks at her own creation, in comparison with how a male creator creates how that character should be.”
He adds that female comic-book creators have “more honest storytelling techniques”, and that “they really push, as far as having more introspection in storytelling”. Because of these qualities, he feels that women are advancing the evolution of comic books. “When you’re looking at these comic characters created by men, they don’t really fit into reality. They’re not real characters.”